What Next for the Canucks?

A tumultuous season for the Vancouver Canucks ended this week with a humiliating four-game sweep by the San Jose Sharks.

For a Canucks team only two years removed as Stanley Cup finalists and a two-time President’s Trophy winner, this early playoff exit raises more questions over their  future than last season’s first round exit by the (eventual Stanley Cup champion) LA Kings.

This year, thankfully, no one was blaming Roberto Luongo’s goaltending. Indeed, the veteran netminder played well in the opening two games of the series, and coach Alain Vigneault’s decision to go with Cory Schneider for the next two games even puzzled the Sharks.

A lack of offensive depth, a struggling penalty kill and an inability to contain the Sharks top scorers led to the Canucks early demise.

Most observers consider the elimination by the Sharks means the Canucks window of opportunity as Cup contenders has passed, suggesting significant changes could be in the offing.

Some believe GM Mike Gillis could be fired, but considering he built the Canucks into a Cup contender, ownership will probably give him  the opportunity to rebuild.

Head coach Alain Vigneault seems a more likely candidate to be fired, coming under increasing criticism since the Canucks failure to win the Cup two years ago.

While Vigneault deserves his fair share of criticism, it would be unfair to make him the scapegoat. The roster he had to work with this season had significant weaknesses, plus he was forced to juggle a contentious goaltending situation.

Ah, yes, the goaltending. It’s well-known Gillis unsuccessfully tried to move Luongo since last summer. The 34-year-old’s hefty contract was the stickin poing, and Gillis’ unwillingness to absorb part of it to facilitate a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline ensured an unhappy “Bobby Lu” finished the season in Vancouver.

To Luongo’s credit, he handled this situation throughout the season well, as did Cory Schneider, with the two friends even going so far to spoof the largely media-driven “goaltending controversy” with a skit for TSN.

Still, this situation cannot drag on into next season. Luongo must be moved, allowing Schneider to take over as the full-time starter.

It’s been suggested the Canucks would be better off moving Schneider rather than Luongo, as they’d receive a better return for the former than the latter.

Two problems with that theory. First, Gillis appears intent on making Schneider his starter. Second, Luongo seems keen now to move on with his career and his life.

If Luongo stays and Schneider goes, he’ll face increasing criticism from Vancouver fans and pundits, as well as comparisons to Schneider if the latter should go on to bigger and better things elsewhere. Most Canucks followers seem to want a break with Luongo as much as he now seems to want one from them.

The problem, of course, is the Canucks won’t likely get a decent return for Luongo compared to what they might have received at the trade deadline, or at the start of this shortened season, or last summer. They might even have to pick up part of his salary to get a deal done.

If there’s no real trade market for Luongo, an amnesty buyout could be considered. I realize the preference is to trade him, but if it appears they can’t even give him away (even by picking up part of his salary), it may be worth considering the amnesty buyout option.

Scoring depth has been an issue for the Canucks going back to their run to the Cup Final in 2011. With the Sedins, Alex Burrows and a healthy Ryan Kesler, they could overcome that problem, but this season it became a significant issue.

The Sedins, of course, are getting older and will be eligible for UFA status next summer, but if Gillis can bring in additional scoring depth, it would be worthwhile re-signing the pair, albeit to shorter and perhaps more affordable deals.

It’s been suggested the Canucks consider trading Alex Burrows, but I think a better candidate (if he could be convinced to waive his trade clause) is Kesler. When healthy, Kesler’s among the best two-way players in the game, but he hasn’t been healthy the past couple of years, sidelined by shoulder and hip injuries which were the result of his aggressive, physical style. Though only 28, his injuries woes could worsen in time.

Shopping Alex Edler is another option. His new six-year, $30 million contract contract kicks in this summer (with a no-trade clause), but he can be moved without his consent before July. The Flyers are among several teams seeking a puck-moving defenseman, though Edler’s new contract might dampen that enthusiasm. Still, if there’s a market to be had for his services, it’s worth investigating, especially if the return could be a good young scoring forward.

If moving Edler isn’t a option, moving out Keith Ballard via trade or amnesty buyout could be considered. Ballard hasn’t panned out as hoped, becoming a frequent target of fan and pundit criticism during his tenure with the Canucks.

An obvious amnesty buyout candidate is David Booth, provided he’s recovered from his ankle injury by this summer’s amnesty buyout period. Booth is keen to contribute, but he’s frequently injured, and his $4.25 million per season could be better spent elsewhere.

Pending UFAs Derek Roy and Mason Raymond are unlikely to be re-signed. Roy (a trade deadline pickup) didn’t pan out as hoped, while Raymond hasn’t blossomed into a reliable scoring threat.

The Canucks are right up against next season’s $64.3 million salary cap. Shedding Luongo’s, Booth’s and Ballard’s salaries via trade or buyout frees up over $14 million in cap space, which could be invested in adding scoring depth and perhaps more grit on the checking lines via trade or free agency.

We don’t know what Gillis has in store this summer for his club. He doesn’t need to “blow up” the roster, but it’s clear changes are needed if the Canucks are to avoid a long, slow decline into mediocrity.

7 Comments

  1. As a Canucks fan we need to rebuild. We cant be like the Flames and wait too long to rebuild and get low value on our best players.

    I am serious, we have to trade the Sedins. They simply will not win the Stanley Cup here. We need to learn how to draft. Edler and BIeksa need to go. Trade our best players while the value is high and get picks and prospects to restart. La, chicago, pit and OTtawa are terrific examples of successrul rebuilds. This roster needs a major blowup. I want us to rebuild instead of going all in and fail once again.

  2. Gills doesn’t anoint the starter, the coach does. And GMMG trusts his coaching staff. Part of the issue truly lies in the dressing room as Canucks are a player lead team, not a coach lead team. Alain Vigneault llet’s the Sedans and Kester run the show. And what happens is complacency sets in, which is clearly what happened over the past 2 seasons. The Canucks are uninspired and need a kick in the pants to get going, always too little too late. The firing of AV would reopen the floor for Luongo to reclaim number 1 status. I believe that a coaching change would resonate in the dressing room. Kesler and Burrows are the engine that we need to build around. We have spent too much on the D core and need to trust the prospects in our system to allow for salary cap to be spent elsewhere. Trading Alex Edler, to Philidelphia for a top 6 fwd is a good place to start.

  3. @Jordan, I agree. Coach V has let the inmates run the asylum and has even said he lets the dressing room make most of the decisions. Ultimately, It’s up to the coach to light fires under the rears of under performing players, and for the older, better players to mentor the young guys.

  4. I totally agree with all of the complacency comments. Watching the team that went to the finals in 2011 was completely different than the last 2 years. That year you saw the players desire to be the first to loose pucks, sliding to block sots and could see determination. This year especially, they seemed lazy, undetermined and uninspired. I like AV and what he has done in the past, but coaches have a shelf life and they need a change to bring someone in and make the players accountable. I think someone like Lindy Ruff , who is available, would be a good fit and bring some renewed energy to the players and make them accountable. I think with then D-men they have under contract and the need for scoring help, Edler may be just the guy to shop for some young scoring help in the form of a Couturier or Read from Philly. They need good young D-men and we need good young forwards. Seems like a good fit and trading partner. They have some good young forwards, so to part with one of them to fill a glaring need on d makes sense…..for both teams. With Tanev and now Corrado appearing likely to be a good solid, reliable top 6 at some point if not next season, I see the Canucks parting with one of their core d. Just makes sense. I guess we will see…………

  5. I think it’s offensive to state that Offensive depth the prime reason. Vcr was a team that lived off of the PP. That was when the officials still called penalties. The goal posts HAVE been moved without doubt good for some bad for others. It was bad for Vcr. But here’s the catch I bought season tickets on the basis of watching a fast skilled team. That seems doomed now. I for one will likely not buy tickets for the new NHL. I don’t want to return to the clutch grab and impede style

    • No kidding. The Canucks were such an exciting team to watch 2 years ago. Last year was a bit of a decline and this year…. Horrible. The style was soooooo boring. Especially for a large stretch. Guess this is a byproduct of the more clutch grab style coming back. Although in saying that, the Canucks were built to punish teams on the PP, they still had PP’s and they were horrible. It’s become much too predictable and went from one of the leagues best to one of the worst. I don’t think it would have made much of a difference of they had more power plays. Would just give is more reason to get frustrated.

      • It almost feels the same as the time the Naslund Bertuzzi days were coming to an end.